Five Things to Know about AI, 5G, and the Great Power Competition

April 2020
Topics: Wireless Communications, Artificial Intelligence, Information Privacy, Knowledge Management, Surveillance, Homeland Security, Information Security
Artificial intelligence. 5G. IoT. Huawei. Great power competition. Understanding them all can be confusing, particularly as claims for AI capabilities blend hype and reality. MITRE experts are making sense of this changing environment.
5G cellular tower in front of cloudy skies

The marketing campaigns promoting 5G mobile broadband tout how faster wireless networks mean artificial intelligence (AI) will soon make positive, life-altering changes for us all—much of it centered around our smartphones. Articles abound with headlines to the effect of “5G will supercharge AI.” That sounds good.

But we’re also seeing warnings in the news about the great power competition, which is a multi-level struggle for dominance among Russia, China, and the U.S. China’s global telecom company, Huawei, is a dominant player in 5G, raising concerns that this portal to vastly more powerful AI also carries heavy risks.

China seeks to supplant the U.S. as the world’s leader in economic power, military might, and influence. To help sort the risks from the rewards, MITRE experts have been sharing expertise about these complex issues and ways to address them. Here are five examples:

1) 5G, AI, and IoT Are All Part of the Great Power Competition

Charles Clancy is an internationally recognized expert on topics at the intersection of wireless, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. He outlines how innovation in artificial intelligence, 5G, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are entwined. "AI needs lots of data. IoT generates lots of data. 5G moves that data around. It’s all connected, literally and figuratively.”

Clancy took a hard look at the threat of China using 5G to dominate global communications, technology, and economics in his paper “5G and the Front Lines of the U.S.-China Power Competition.” And in a recent op-ed in The Hill, he explains that through telecom giant Huawei, “Beijing is poised to gain a powerful new lever with the proliferation of 5G—which promises to unlock the Internet of Things and connect everything from home appliances to autonomous vehicles to critical infrastructure to the cloud.”

While the United States government has blocked U.S. telecommunications companies from using Huawei equipment in their core networks, many of our allies and other nations are increasingly dependent upon Huawei equipment. That means they could be dependent upon China—and face the risk of covert surveillance and even losing control over their critical infrastructure.

“Make no mistake about it, China leverages Huawei’s growing market share to support China’s national objectives,” writes Clancy in his op-ed, pointing out that the company ultimately answers to the Communist Party. Clancy recommends a set of strategies falling along three basic lines: “slowing down Chinese expansion, accelerating U.S. innovation, and working around this major new player.” 

2) AI Must Be Viewed as Part of a System

According to Eric Bloedorn, chief scientist for AI Adoption at MITRE, “Many people focus on the accuracy of an AI or machine learning model. But no matter how powerful any single element of artificial intelligence is, it’s only effective in the context of a system. And that’s where MITRE comes in, figuring out how AI works within systems—anything from transportation to national security.”

Bloedorn has been working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on “The Augmenting Intelligence using Machines (AIM) Strategy.” He says, “There’s no lack of data in the world—and that’s only going to grow exponentially with 5G.

"We’re helping the Intelligence Community figure out how to combine the strengths of humans and machines working together and in the context of existing systems, to improve our sponsors’ ability to analyze and draw appropriate conclusions from their vast data collections.” 

3) It’s Time to Rethink Privacy

With all this data flowing around, MITRE experts such as Duane Blackburn, science & technology policy analyst, and Craig Arndt, technical director for Homeland Security Programs, have been speaking out about our nation’s privacy protections. They say that the recent calls to ban face recognition are a mistake.

Blackburn points out in The Hill that privacy protections were written long before face recognition systems, always-listening voice assistants, and other technologies became an everyday reality. “We need to analyze and update our laws and policies to accommodate this new class of capabilities so that the government and private sectors can leverage them while preserving the fundamental rights of individuals and society.”

And Arndt wrote in Nextgov, “Just as barnstorming was a dangerous way to use aircraft, face recognition technology is a tool that can be used well or misused."

Rather than ban face recognition, he suggests, "let’s take a page from aviation history and create a system of safeguards and regulatory infrastructure for face recognition and use it as a model for similar technologies.”

“Privacy may be different in the digital age,” he says. “But we still need to protect it. And MITRE is working to find new policies and technologies to make that a reality.” 

4) Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Always Smart

Another AI limitation that will become more important as 5G increases the prevalence of AI is the risk of it being fooled by people with bad intentions.

"The World Wide Web was developed with security as an afterthought, rather than a core design component—and we're still paying the price for it today,” says Mikel Rodriguez, who oversees MITRE’s Decision Science research programs.

Fortunately, “with AI, it's not too late to consider safety, security, and privacy before society increasingly relies on this technology.”

5) We Need to Build an AI Workforce 

Artificial intelligence will likely alter our nation’s workforce, impacting both high-tech and legacy-industry workers. According to McKinsey & Company, in a decade the U.S. will be facing a shortfall of up to 250,000 data scientists.

"China and other countries are investing heavily in developing artificial intelligence expertise," says MITRE's Michael Balazs. "The United States has to do likewise to stay competitive in the international arena.”

That's why MITRE is working to create an AI-savvy workforce, starting at the college level, through an initiative known as Generation AI Nexus, led by Balazs. Through “Gen AI,” we're integrating AI lessons into college courses across a broad range of fields—from the sciences to the arts—to give everyone a grounding in this crucial area. 

It’s Much More Than Phones

Security. Privacy. Education. Competition on a global scale. MITRE is taking a broad view to capture, convey, and confront the consequences—intended and otherwise—of AI underpinned by 5G.

So, the next time you see an ad for a new phone, consider that along with faster downloads for games, new forms of connectivity, and a host of fresh applications, there are many other factors at work. Will consumers worldwide be dependent upon China for 5G infrastructure? Will your data be secure? Will we be able to communicate with our allies without eavesdroppers? Will the U.S. have a workforce ready for 21st-century challenges? These are topics that will affect your future directly.

By Bill Eidson

Explore more at MITRE Focal Point: Great Power Competition.

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